So Shane Watson failed to fill in his laundry list for the chambermaid and has gone home in a huff to spend more time with his haircut? It’s easy to laugh at these Australians – safe too, and that’s not something you say very often – but did it have to come to this? Bluntly, yes it did – as anyone who was on The Colonel’s 1956-57 Tour can vouchsafe.
The sea passage to Perth has always been a happy one with the sun high in the sky and nobody overly indebted yet on the deck quoits book run by Smirker as usual. (Things could get nasty on the return voyage – I recall one professional giving up cricket to go back down the pit for three years in order to pay off Smirker and his boys). The Colonel liked to run a relaxed ship – gentlemen on the upper decks, players on the lower, but the pros did take their meals with us, on Sundays.
All was well, apart from Wally’s issue in Rangoon (and I understand that the issue was made worse whenever his skin was exposed to sunlight) when a youngish chappie – never did learn his name, grammar school type from Yorkshire, decent first change, but always needed to be told which spoon to use on Sundays – got it into his head that we should form some kind of tour committee to discuss tactics, training methods and all that kind of thing. It sounded like Bolshevism to me and I pointed out that the Players’ Committee (he interrupted to say it was the Gentlemen’s Committee, on which I was forced to concede) had already secured an improved brand of gin for the aperitifs and an extra boiled egg for the professionals on Fridays. The Colonel – perhaps the sun had got to him after sitting too long with the Dowager Duchess of Dunmow the previous day – agreed with this revolutionary sentiment and soon there was a mad scramble for pencils and old betting slips to write on as thoughts were requested.
Turned out that two of the pros couldn’t actually write (and one of the gentlemen, but he’d been at Harrow so we had suspected) and, after a lot of squinting at the scrawls and a bit of help from matron’s spectacles, The Colonel announced that by far the most popular suggestion as to how we could improve our chances of beating the Australians – I’m almost certain he said the Australians and not the Barbarians despite what other accounts claim (it was before 9.00pm after all) – was to toss Smirker over the rail. Well that just wasn”t on – not at those latitudes anyway, because of the sharks – so The Colonel moved to the second most popular suggestion which he immediately vetoed as Matron was a married woman. The third option was to alternate bowling bouncers with yorkers, which was just too soon after the Bodyline capitulation by MCC, so that option was passed to the West Indies who used it well from 1975 to 1995.
Soon we were down to suggestions about the keeping the beer cold and the promptness of the radio’s updates on the stockmarket and The Colonel rather abandoned the whole sorry exercise. But an important lesson had been learned, one that the Australians have learned again this week. Never ask the enlisted men for their opinions – if they have any, they’ll find a way of letting you know and then you’ll only have to find a way to ignore them. Democracy is all well and good for er… something I suppose, but not for a cricket team on tour for whom rum. sodomy and the lash (without most of the rum, all of the sodomy and most of the lash these days) is plenty. And if you really want to punish cricketers in India, you shouldn’t ignore them, you should select them.